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  • Rendezvous at the Straits: Fur Trade and Military Activities at Fort de Buade and Fort Michilimackinac, 1669-1781
  • William Newbigging
Rendezvous at the Straits: Fur Trade and Military Activities at Fort de Buade and Fort Michilimackinac, 1669-1781. 2 vols. Timothy J. Kent. Ossineke, MI: Silver Fox Enterprises, 2004. Pp. 320, b&w, $89.95

The strategic importance of Michilimackinac, and its rich local natural resource base, made it an ideal location for a French settlement. It is the history of that settlement, or at least the fur trade and military history, that has moved Timothy J. Kent to write this exhaustive two-volume history. Readers must not expect a traditional scholarly history in any [End Page 153] sense of the word. These volumes are unconventional, even unorthodox, and highly original. Mr Kent does not appear to be a trained academic, and his self-published study does not have the benefit of the usual support – such as evaluators, colleagues, or editors – that trained academics enjoy. Still, Kent has created a remarkably detailed and useful piece of work.

Nevertheless, it is still necessary to assert that the standards of academic publishing exist for a reason. Kent's unedited writing is prolix and idiosyncratic and his language choices are odd. He makes a very good argument for using standard names for Native peoples but at the same time curious idiosyncrasies abound; for example, he refers to French colonizers as 'civilian personnel.' His wordiness makes the work much longer than it needs to be and it also renders parts of it dense and impenetrable. This is a shame, because Kent has brought to light a wealth of really useful information.

Kent's readers will be immediately impressed with the amount of detailed research that he brings to his subject. Quotations, very long quotations, are everywhere. In fact in some ways this text is more an edited piece of primary documents than it is a traditional social history. These long inclusions are sometimes a strength of the work as they allow the reader immediate access to the history of the fort. Some of the quotations include extraneous material, and nowhere are they supported with enough analysis. Many ought to have been judiciously pruned.

Beyond quibbles about language and style lies the question of reliability. While the detailed account of trading activities is impressive and the immense knowledge of the trade goods and material culture is praiseworthy, readers are left with a book without a strong sense of context. At the outset Kent informs his readers that 'priests often acted as on-site government agents' (1:1). He further notes that they 'submitted reports concerning local events and rumors to the civil administrators in the St. Lawrence Valley' (1:1). Priests, or more precisely Jesuit missionaries, wrote only to the civil administrators, or more precisely to the intendant or the governor, to complain about the trade in eaux-de-vie or other French transgressions against the Jesuit sense of propriety. The conflict between the Jesuits and the governors is a central part of the history of Fort Michilimackinac, and Kent appears to have misunderstood it.

The other problem associated with a lack of context concerns the wider worlds of French policy and Ottawa policy. Although there are several well-documented references to Ottawa and Ojibwa people, Kent does not provide his readers with an analytical discussion of their motivations. Similarly the motivations of the French policy makers are given short shrift. For example, the long report of Clairambault d'Aigremont, [End Page 154] a commissaire de la marine who was sent on a fact-finding tour of the pays d'en haut, is given only a short paragraph on page 174 of volume one (although a large part of the report is transcribed). D'Aigremont's report is central to the development of French colonial policy in the region.

In spite of these problems, the strength of the work is found in the author's willingness to go to great lengths to explore the material culture of the fort. He strives to understand his topic through total immersion in the life of the French trader. Anyone interested in the material culture of the...


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